Industry Professional

How to Plan for Product Updates

Making changes to an existing product is more than adding a tweak here and a new feature there. It is listening and responding to customer needs that keeps products fresh and relevant. Every issue of Security Today includes pages of updated products, but how does this process really work?

Aiphone’s new modular emergency towers are a good example. Here’s a peek at how the company arrived at our recently enhanced towers.

Behind the Curtain

Aiphone encourages team members to ask customers what they do and don’t like about the products. That feedback leads to suggestions for improvements. Ideas are filtered by the New Products Planning Committee (NPPC), including members of engineering, purchasing, sales, technical support, production and marketing teams. The group meets regularly to pursue the most promising suggestions.

“Customers were asking for a CCTV arm on top of the towers,” Derek McNeill, a Redmond, Wash.-based engineering supervisor and member of the NPPC, said. “It would allow a second camera to provide security personnel with another line of sight to more accurately assess and respond to situations.”

Committee members from the sales team said customers also wanted a UL Listed electrical box to easily satisfy countless industry, state and local electrical codes. An engineer also shared some customer ideas to help installations go faster: add built-in mounting hardware for power supplies or other accessories and hinged access panels to make it simple to pull wire between the two- or threetower modules.

The ideas looked promising, so the engineering department asked NPPC for permission to move forward and start designing these changes.

“We start with a concept design that also includes looking at the budget and production timetable,” McNeill said. “The NPPC reviewed our work and gave us the okay to go to the prototype phase.”

Aiphone designs and manufactures its intercom products. But in this case, it turned to a trusted partner in the Seattle area to create the formed sheet metal structure needed to complete a working model. The NPPC, visiting sales team and Aiphone’s chairman were eager to review the prototypes.

Seeing is believing, and after evaluating the unit the team members were confident they could sell the new, enhanced modular tower and CCTV arm module. With that, the various Aiphone departments approved the project. The engineering department had an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

“It was time to create final drawings and order another prototype, which we call our pre-production model,” McNeill said. “We decided to make improvements, such as added welds to make the tower much stronger. That last model looked good and I got the go-ahead to begin production.”

About this time, committee members approved the use of a UL Listed electrical box in Aiphone’s emergency wall-mount enclosures. Aiphone’s attention to detail means taking the time to get things right the first time. From the initial NPPC meeting to the first sale of the new towers took about 15 months.

Changes Around the World

Aiphone is a 70-year-old Japanese-based company that’s done business in the United States since 1970. The company also has subsidiary offices in the U.K., France, Australia, China and Singapore with sales in more than 70 countries around the world.

Each region has the flexibility to add features to meet the specific needs of their customers and end users. Often changes in one region spread to others. Yet that’s not always the case, McNeill said.

“For example, since vandalism is often a problem in the U.S.,” McNeill said. “We make changes to the Japanese version by adding vandal-resistant face plates to our intercoms.”

The new emergency towers are considered a U.S. product, but will also be sold in Canada and Mexico. It may not be long before they’re being sold globally.

Things never slow down in engineering and McNeill has already moved on to his next assignment. He said it’s little too early to talk about his next project, but hinted that it had to do with a more advanced adaptor to handle a wider variety of legacy Aiphone intercoms.

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Security Today.

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